Kayla Swain: Graphic Artist

Kayla is the young Omaha graphic artist at the helm of ReVision Studios. Her first four comic issue collaborations with Joanna Wong are being collected into the first volume of Midwinter, which is due out in November. Check out Midwinter at https://tapastic.com/episode/166970

Eve: First of all, how long have you been working on Midwinter? And how does the collaboration work?

Kayla: Joanna is a writer I know who lives in Las Vegas. We both had characters we had created, and story lines. Then in 2011, Joanna dreamed about a story with both our characters in it. I said, let’s do it!  

It sounds crazy, but it worked. Joanna comes up with the overall story. I do the art, the managing, and also some of the writing, in some of the immediate situations. Any bottle neck we have always seems to start with me.

Eve: Your trailer on YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yLktEDZNkE describes Midwinter as a graphic novel that meshes future technologies with mythology and magic.  That sounds a lot like anime. Does Midwinter have anything in common with, say, Sailor Moon?

Kayla: (laughs) Midwinter is highly influenced by anime. Of course, I would never call what I do manga, because that refers only to comics created in Japan, but besides elements of story, there are facets of the art that have been influenced, like details in the hair, the faces. 

Eve: Were you influenced by any one artist or anime in particular?

Kayla: Definitely, yes. I was greatly influenced by Hiromu Arakawa, who was the artist and creator of FullMetal Alchemist, one of the most popular anime of all times in Japanese and in English. I learned so much about storytelling, about characters, about pacing, and about world building.

Eve: So in Midwinter, who is the main character, Nox or Dr. Pendiah Hemera? Because I got the idea that Nox is not a really good guy all the time.

Kayla: (laughs) No, he is not. Nox is the protagonist, he is the main character, but, no, he isn’t a hero. He starts out with criminal intent and gets roped into helping out Pendiah with some arcane security issues. 

Eve: It’s nice to see the nerdy girl get ahead once in a while.  

Kayla: She’s definitely an important character, one that really cares about the people in her hospital and will do anything to ensure their safety. She’s incredibly intelligent and has put in a lot of hard work to get to where she is today. Overall I really like to avoid stereotypes in my characters or mix them up a bit to come up with something new, so it was important to me that she be able to stand on her own two feet even as a noncombatant.

As another example, Nox is seen as this tall, dark, and handsome criminal, so people have certain expectations of him. To break away from that and humanize him, he’s got a fear of aging and his hobbies include more traditionally feminine interests like fashion and interior design. He’s a character that grows.

Eve: Are there certain themes that you return to?

Kayla: Not consciously, no. I do enjoy certain situations and certain characters. I am working on this still, but I like a character driven story. By that I mean I like things that happen as a result of something in the character himself or herself, rather than things that just happen to the character.  Actually, it’s easier to think of things I avoid rather than things I return to. Like the Dragon Ball Z trope.  

Eve: What is the Dragon Ball Z trope?

Kayla: There’s always a new villain and a worse crisis. Always a more powerful villain or spell, always something more intense happening and things escalating, always a transformation needed to overcome. It gets repetitive.

Eve: What is your proper title? Graphic artist? Cartoonist?

Kayla: Cartoonist isn’t wrong, but then people might tend to think of comic strips, which it isn’t. 

Eve: Some people might say since you are still in your middle twenties, that your work hasn’t had time to evolve much yet. Would you agree with that? 

Kayla: Not really. Well, yes, of course, I am still evolving. And yes, I am young, but I have been drawing since I was two years old. I was an only child, and drawing was my main pastime for many years.  Also, I began working digitally when I was thirteen. I taught myself, originally. A lot of people don’t start working digitally till high school or even college. I had access to a computer, but I didn’t have access to art supplies, so I taught myself to draw on a computer, instead. Now it’s how I do all my work.  

Eve: Are there any disadvantages to that?

Kayla: Unfortunately, there’s a division in colleges and in competition, a bias against digital art. Fine arts people don’t regard it as a skilled craft in the same way. The difference is in the tools.  It’s getting more acceptable these days, though.  

Eve: Are you able to make a living at art?

Kayla: Well, let’s say that it is possible for a person to make a living in graphic design in Omaha, in freelancing or in advertising, for example. I did it for a time myself. I worked for a mobile game company, but I got burned out. You start to feel that if you’re not productive, you’re wasting time, somehow.  

Eve: So you have a day job that supports your art? What kind of work do you do?

Kayla: I am a manager at a pizza place. But I am getting ready to step down and go part-time again because that isn’t working out well either. You work hard all day, you don’t want to come home and work on anything else. I’m planning a new promotion on Patreon to try and get a little extra help when I do go part-time.  

Eve: What is Patreon?

Kayla: It’s a service where people can support artists they love by donating a set amount every so often. In exchange, the artist gives them access to rewards like exclusive images, tutorials, livestreams. My goal is to be able to work part-time on Midwinter, maybe full-time eventually.

 Eve: What would you say have been your biggest setbacks?

Kayla: It’s all time and money, and those things are so closely related, aren’t they? Trying to find that balance has been hard. Other than short periods, I have been able to afford to work on my art only part-time. It’s hard to keep up the momentum sometimes.  

Eve: Well, good luck with that. I will post your Patreon site at the end of the page so that readers can check it out. Tell us about what you have going on this summer?

Kayla: We sell and promote Midwinter at conventions! Our next one is right in town–we’ll be vendors at O Comic Con from July 8-10th at the MidAmerica Center. Later this year, volume 1 will be debuting at Anime Nebraskon, another local convention. This one is Nov 4-6th.

Eve: What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?

Kayla: Find the right team to work with. Toxic people can use a project to bolster themselves, but positive people can help you keep accountable and interested. If you’re really serious about working as a graphic artist, get ready! It takes a lot of time and risk.  

Midwinter’s Patreon page can be seen at https://www.patreon.com/midwinter?ty=h  and

Midwinter’s Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/midwintercomic


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